COROT, Jean-Baptiste Camille
(b. 1796, Paris, d. 1875, Paris)

Peasants under the Trees at Dawn

Oil on canvas, 28 x 40 cm
National Gallery, London

Corot's 'studies' painted outdoors directly from the motif were private works and were not exhibited by him at the Paris Salons. They were none the less formative on generations of artists, having been bought up after Corot's death by fellow-painters, including Degas. A late developer, inspired by Constable's landscapes exhibited at the Salon of 1824, fortunate to be supported and encouraged by his parents, Corot became one of the most unassuming revolutionaries in the history of art. He is the agent of change from the severely stylised French 'ideal landscape' tradition derived from Poussin and Claude to modern landscape painting, finding classical peace and harmony in the face of nature itself.

This canvas was painted in the Morvan, a district west of Dijon in Burgundy, which Corot visited frequently on painting expeditions in the early 1840s. His father's family had originated there, and he must have felt a particular affinity with the region. A peasant saws timber; his wife helps him. Trees and distant village buildings are silhouetted against the sky, irradiated with the fresh cool light of early morning, and long shadows fall on the grass, where we can just make out a glint of white plumage on the back of a goose with dun-feathered wings waddling out to graze.